Rev. Mike Osborne preaches a chapel message on Matthew 7:7-12 at RTS Orlando as part of a series on God’s goodness. The message is entitled “The Good Father.”
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:7-12)
The Word of the Lord. Let’s pray. Father, we come today expectantly because you are a good Father. Send your Spirit, we pray. Let him be our teacher and point us to our glorious and wonderful Savior. And we pray this in his name, Amen.
You might have heard this story. I finished reading, not long ago, a biography of Harry S. Truman. The date was April 12, 1945, the time 3:35 in the afternoon. The place was Warm Springs, Georgia, where a physician had recommended that FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, should go for some health benefits. But unfortunately, at 3:35 that afternoon, FDR was pronounced dead from a massive cerebral hemorrhage. And he was young, too. He was only 63—seems very young to me. His vice president for less than three months, Harry Truman, was quickly summoned to the White House. And FDR’s wife, Eleanor, met him there and told him the president had passed away. A stunned Truman said to Eleanor, “What can I do for you, Mrs. Roosevelt?” And she replied, “Mr. Truman, is there anything we can do for you?”
It’s a little similar to what Jesus often said to people when he was here on the earth. You might remember in Matthew 20, Jesus met two blind men outside Jericho, and he said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” You might remember he was approached by James and John one day in Mark 10 with a request. And he said, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said, “Grant us to sit, one at your right and one at your left in your glory.” And also in Mark 10, the story about Bartimaeus. He could have been one of those two blind men I mentioned earlier. Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Rabbi,” he said, “Let my eyes be recovered. Let me recover my sight.”
It’s the same thing here in this passage, Matthew 7. “Ask, and it will be given to you.” He is saying, “Is there anything that I can do for you?” “For everyone who asks receives, the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Now, you would think that based on these wonderful promises here in this text, we would never stop knocking on the door of heaven. Yet I suspect that many of you this morning, if you’re honest, would say that prayer is one of the things you struggle with the most. I would. Many of us would admit that we spend much more time trying to make things happen or wishing that things would happen than we do praying that things will happen. Or perhaps you would admit that we pray sporadically or only in times of emergency or halfheartedly. Some of us would have to confess that we don’t pray very often as families or as married couples or as members together of a seminary community. Why is that? What can explain our prayerlessness?
Well, I can think of quite a number of reasons. But being as our time is a little bit limited, let me suggest two things. Two reasons why we don’t pray very often, perhaps don’t pray very well, and pray only half-heartedly. Two reasons, both start with D. We downplay the difficulties that we face each day. And secondly, we doubt God’s love and concern. Downplay and doubt, D and D, to help you remember.
We Don’t Pray Because We Downplay the Difficulties We Face
So first, let’s dive in. Many of us don’t pray very often because we downplay, that is, we minimize or we underestimate, the difficulties and the challenges that lie before us. We think, “I’m OK. Things are going all right. Things are pretty well in my church, my family. Everybody’s healthy. My sins are pretty much under control. I can write this exegetical paper. That’s not a big problem. I’ve met with this client before. I kind of know what she struggles with. I can lead that ministry. I’ve got it all figured out. Things could be worse in our country. The economy is seemingly pretty strong. Clemson’s 5-0. What is there to pray about, really?” Those are some of the thoughts that I think subconsciously go on in our minds.
Let’s call that attitude what it really is. It’s pride. It’s vain self-reliance. It’s the belief that you can make it without the help of God. When you think that way, you won’t pray. Why would you? But there’s a reason that Jesus here invites us to pray right at this point in the Sermon on the Mount, near the end of the sermon. If you think about it, if you go back in your mind to Matthew 5, 6, and 7, think about the things that Jesus has called us to. “You’re the salt of the earth,” he said in chapter 5. “You’re the light of the world. Let your light shine before men.” “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees,” he said, “you’ll never enter the kingdom of heaven.” “If you’re angry with your brother without cause, you’ve murdered him. If you look lustfully at somebody besides your spouse, you’ve committed adultery.” “Don’t swear. Don’t retaliate. Love your enemies. Give to the needy. Lay up treasures in heaven. Don’t be anxious about anything. Don’t judge people. Take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of someone else’s.”
What God requires he also supplies in response to prayer.We hear these things piling up and piling up, and if we’re honest, we say, “Oh, Lord, what a wretched man I am! What a wretched woman I am! I can’t. It’s too much. It’s too high. I’m too weak.” And that’s the point, isn’t it? You are too weak to do all of that on your own. That’s why Jesus says here in Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” See, what God requires he also supplies in response to prayer.
So ask God. It’s the message of the whole Bible. The Prophet Isaiah 30:18 says, “The Lord waits [that is, he longs] to be gracious to you.” Psalm 34:6, this poor man called and the Lord heard him and delivered him out of all his troubles. The whole message of the Bible is that when you are weak, God is strong because that’s what grace is all about. See, God is attracted to weakness. Paul said it himself, “When I’m weak, that’s when I’m strong, because his grace will be sufficient when my need is the greatest (2 Cor. 12:10). And we might say, “When I am weak, then I will pray.”
The whole message of the Bible is that when you are weak, God is strong because that’s what grace is all about.So that’s one reason that I think we don’t pray very often, very well, only half-heartedly, only sporadically. It’s because we downplay the kinds of things that we’re going to face each day as we walk through this fallen world.
Christians Neglect Prayer Because We Doubt God’s Love and Concern
But now let’s talk about the second reason that I think Jesus addresses here. Many of us do not pray or we do not pray well or very long or very often because we doubt God’s love and concern. We doubt it. I suspect there are some in the room this morning who would say, “Mike, I have asked. I’ve done what Jesus is asking us to do, but God has been silent. I have prayed over and over again. Mike, I know Greek, I know the verb tenses in verse 7; they’re all present active imperatives: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. And that’s what I’ve tried to do, but my prayers have seemingly had no effect.”
For many years, and because this is recorded, I’ll spare you the details, but for many years, I’ve prayed for something related to my family. Something to change, something to happen. Every morning at 9:00, my phone goes off with an alarm, reminding me to pray about this thing, and I do it. I’ve done it for a long time. My wife and I many times before we go to sleep at night as we’re lying in bed one of us, we’ll take turns, will pray about this thing. At mealtimes, when it’s just my wife and me before we eat, one of us will always pray that this thing would take place. And so far, there’s been no observable change. It’s deeply sad and terribly disappointing for my wife and me.
It’s something that in my very dark moments, I begin to think that my prayers must not matter much to God. Then I conclude that maybe I do not matter much to God. This thought, this doubt, this lingering shadow follows me almost everywhere I go. Some of you know that feeling. I’m speaking this morning to some folks who have prayed about something for the longest time and have yet to feel the burden removed from you or have yet to see something happen that is a positive change. You’ve prayed for someone you love to come to faith. You’ve asked God for a mate. You’ve prayed to conceive a child. You’ve asked God to be released from memories of a painful past. You’ve prayed to have a close friend. You’ve asked for healing or victory or a sense of belonging or a call or a vocation that is truly satisfying. And so far, not a thing has changed. So perhaps if you’re one that I’ve described, you’ve stopped praying altogether. Why pray if God does not appear to be listening?
God is good, you matter to him, and so do your prayers.Well, it strikes me that even Jesus knew what it’s like to pray and to feel in his human nature that God wasn’t there. That’s part of what the agony in the garden was like for our Savior. See, there’s a lot about prayer I just don’t understand. And perhaps you share some of these questions. Why are some prayers answered right away and others not? Why doesn’t every prayer change things? It seems that many of the promises in the Scriptures would indicate that they would. Why does God often hide his face? I don’t know. I wish I did.
But this I do know: God is good, you matter to him, and so do your prayers. Why can I say that? Well, it’s because of this wonderful text, because of what Jesus says in verse 11, he says, “Listen, if even a bad father”—and we all can acknowledge there are many bad fathers out there—”if even a bad father knows how to give good gifts to his children, how much more will our [implied: good] Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” Jesus is saying, if you’re a follower of Christ, God is your Father. You are his adopted child and you’re precious to him.
You may not have had a good earthly father. I suspect that we could go around and people would share stories of that. You might not have had a father who has spent adequate time with you or who loved you or who set a good example for you, who provided for you materially and emotionally and spiritually. Your Father may have neglected you, may have even, God forbid, abused you. Your Father may have given you a stone, to use Jesus’s words here, instead of bread. He may have given you a snake instead of a fish. But friend, that father is not God.
God is with you. He is suffering with you, he loves you, and he’s listening.God is the good Father. He is wise and he knows how and when it’s the right time to answer your prayers. Maybe not now, maybe not even next year, or even in your lifetime. Maybe what you’re longing for awaits the new heavens and the new earth for its fulfillment. But meanwhile, what do we know to be true? God is with you. He is suffering with you, he loves you, and he’s listening. You might know that wonderful hymn from the 17th century by Paul Gerhardt where he says, “God hears your sighs and counts your tears. He shall lift up your head. Await God’s time, so shall this night soon end in joyous day.”
God is your good Father. And because he’s a good Father, he’s also a good provider. He gives you exactly what you need. It may not be what you asked for, but verse 11 says that all God’s gifts are good gifts. Do you see that? He says, “How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” You may ask God for one thing, and God wants to give you a better thing. Why? Because he’s good, and all his gifts are good. How could it be otherwise? He sacrificed his own Son to rescue you from the pig pen of your sin and to welcome you home. And if he did that, how will he not also, Paul says in Romans 8, along with him, graciously give you all good things?
I don’t know what you’re carrying this morning. I don’t know what you’ve been asking for. If Jesus were to say to you, what do you want me to do for you? I don’t know what you would say. But he does. So don’t stop praying. Go and ask and seek and keep knocking on the door of heaven. Lay aside your pride. Lay aside your self reliance. Run to the Father who loves you and believe that he hears every prayer and will meet every need in his way and in his time.
Father, we acknowledge that we are weak, and we often run into our day with hardly a thought of the difficulty of the things that we’re about to do. Forgive us for trusting in our own selves, our own resources, our own ingenuity to figure things out.
And then, Father, sometimes we also doubt. We’ve carried things to you again and again in prayer and Father, quite honestly, it’s sometimes discouraging when we don’t understand why we don’t see the fruit of our prayers right away. And so, Lord, we bring these burdens to you this morning and pray that you will remind us of your love and of your goodness. Remind us, Father, to keep praying and asking and seeking and knocking, knowing that you are not only good, but you’re wise and you’re strong, and you will come. You will come and be with us in our time of need, and we pray this in Jesus’s name, Amen.